Evoking in theme and spirit such “eccentric relationship” films as “Kiss of the Spider Woman,””My Beautiful Laundrette” and “The Crying Game,””Different for Girls” is a charmingly offbeat dramatic comedy about the evolving friendship and eventual love between a rambunctious macho man and a quiet, insecure transsexual. Toplined by handsome Brit thesp Rupert Graves in a starmaking performance, this oddball British meller could reap spirited to good B.O. among young, sophisticated viewers for an entrepreneurial distrib.
A disturbing 1978 prologue establishes the unusual bond between Karl Foyle, an effeminate boy who tucks his genitals between his legs when he showers, and Paul Prentice, a strong-willed lad who protects Karl from the other boys before both are expelled from school.
Action then jumps forward to present-day London and a random meeting between the two, when Karl’s taxi crashes into Prentice’s speeding motorcycle. Only difference is that Karl is now a transsexual named Kim (Steven Mackintosh). Despite initial reluctance to renew ties, Kim agrees to meet with Prentice (Graves).
At first, it seems the two have nothing in common. Still rooted in the 1970s, Prentice, who works as a dispatch rider, refuses to grow up and face responsibilities. In contrast, Kim holds a steady job in a greeting card company , making every possible effort to live a quiet, “normal” life as a woman. As expected, after a shaky start, Prentice and Kim begin to warm up, and even show a mutual interest.
Refreshingly, scripter Tony Merchant doesn’t place Kim in the familiar, often shady milieu of colorful transvestites and flamboyant transsexuals. Instead, he emphasizes Kim’s ambition to live a mainstreamlife. Nonetheless, one night after a heated argument, the pair have a run-in with police, and when Prentice assaults an officer who’s rude to Kim, he ends up in jail.
Pic becomes too routinely melodramatic when Prentice asks Kim to make a statement saying he was attacked, and Kim runs away in panic to her sister. Police and courtroom scenes drag down the story to the level of a routine TV movie.
But the stay with sister Jean (Saskia Reeves) and her hubby, Neil (Neil Dudgeon), provides an opportunity to develop a subplot that enriches the story and addsresonance to its chief issue of alternative lifestyles.
There’s a wonderfully emotional scene between Neil, a military sergeant who’s sterile and admits he’s not the biological father of his son, but feels like his father nonetheless, and Kim, who has always been called auntie by her nephew, even when she was “technically” a man.
Most remarkable is director Richard Spence’s candid approach to a challenging subject and his refusal to trivialize or camp up transsexualism. Yarn is marked by honesty and possibly reps cinema’s first detailed portrait of a person’s life and identity after undergoing a sex-change operation. In the delicately staged climax, Prentice asks Kim to take off her clothes, and the two stand fully naked in front of each other before jumping into bed.
Helmer alternates the dialogue scenes, some of which are a tad too earnest, with fast-moving sequences, which are tremendously assisted by Prentice’s being a biker. Outdoors shots of London are accompanied by vibrant music that compensates for the slower, more solemn moments, and ending is rousing.
After a decade of mostly supporting roles, Graves assuredly demonstrates that he can carry a picture with his stunning looks, considerable talent and charisma. In the difficult, often subdued role of an insecure transsexual, Mackintosh is not exactly Graves’ match, but still delivers an honorable performance. Shining throughout is distinguished character actress Miriam Margolyes, who, as Kim’s tough-sensitive boss, steals every scene she’s in.